So I got to go fishing yesterday.
I've been working in the UK this week, and was invited yesterday, Sunday, to sneak off fishing by a friend. My friend isn't quite as elderly as Mr. Hartley, but he is just as keen a fly fisherman.
Not just any fishing but I was able to spend several hours on an English chalk steam. For you uninitiated, the term "English chalk stream" is for us fishermen what a pilgrimage site is to members of many faiths, namely a spiritual homeland that most of us will never see.
This is not to gloat about being one of the few fishermen on the planet lucky enough to have spent their day on an English chalk stream, this is to honour my debt to society at large for being granted such a privilege - namely to share the experience with as many people as possible.
First off what's a "chalk stream"? The answer, like most other answers, can be found on wikipedia.org here. In short, chalk streams are beautiful clear water streams with lots of insect life that feed large populations of native English Brown Trout.
But that only begins to tell the story. Fly fishing on chalk streams has inspired more than just me, for example the first great fishing book "The Compleat Angler" by Sir Issac Walton was written about the experience of fishing on a chalk stream. It continues to inspire authors on Lulu and elsewhere: http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?fKeywords=fly%20fishing
Fishing on a chalk stream is, as the Scots would say, magic.
The reason fishing on these rivers is so addictive is for three reasons:
1. Trout are snobs.
The rivers are astoundingly beautiful - but then so are most rivers with trout in them. It is a condition of keeping a healthy population of trout. It is not, as the scientists would have you believe, because trout are sensitive to pollution, it is because trout are snobs. Only beautiful rivers will do for them.
The unique elements that create the magic of English chalk streams is that there are lots of fish and they are maddeningly difficult to catch. Finally, it is not just the fish who are snobs. You are only allowed to fish for these trout with dry-flies. Meaning that your lure needs to be a half inch of feathers wrapped around a tiny hook dropped so gently on the surface of the water that they float, or remain "dry".
If you fish with even a "wet" fly meaning one that sinks, or, god forbid a worm, you will be summarily escorted off the premises by a posse of Englishmen looking down their noses at the offending colonial.
(I don't mean to pick on English fly fishermen. All of us fly fishermen are guilty of talking down to the rest of the fishing fraternity frequently. I've been known to do the same to my competitors at my aunt and uncle's annual Bracebridge-area family bass fishing tournament who crassly use worms to lure the lunkers. I work exclusively my fly rod, all the more challenging to tempt a bass with an artificial fly. Of course, when the worms-users win every year in a rout, you have to have some excuse.)
2. The Trout are impossible to catch.
This combination of dry-fly-only and crystal-clear water results in large numbers of very wary brown trout who are almost impossible to catch. These trout are very picky eaters. With the large volume of insect life, and of the clarity of the water they both have the opportunity and the ability to be picky eaters.
They eat mostly what we in Canada would just call "mayflies". But there is such a huge array of these in England that only the large ones that show up once a year in May are called Mayflies.
Like all natural things there are hundreds of subspecies, known scientifically as "Ephemerella". A term that, what else, comes from the Greek "Ephemeron", which one of my valued readers will be able to tell us: either comes from, or is the root word for, the word "ephemeral" meaning to exist for a very brief time. This in turn is due to the very short life span of these mayfly insects in their final flying stage, typically a day or less. (Anyone know: is Ephemeron the ancient Greek for mayfly, or was Ephemeron a Greek word for short lives, that was subsequently applied to mayflies?)
In any case, there are literally hundreds of subspecies of mayflies and I'm convinced no human has cataloged them all properly. I'm equally convinced every Brown Trout comes out of the egg knowing each and every subspecies of mayfly by sight and detail. Which enables these trout to look at the fly you just set down perfectly in front of them and mutter something along the lines of: "who is he trying to kid showing me a Blue Dun when the only thing on the river this afternoon are Blue-winged Olives."
3. Mano a Turcha.
The difference between fly fishing on a chalk stream and most other fishing is that you can see the fish you are trying to catch. If you are not careful he can see you too. Your task is to set your fly in front of him in the river and let the current float it over him. If he likes your "presentation", meaning if you dropped the fly gently enough and just at the right distance in front of him and it resembles the correct subspecies of mayfly that he happens to be feeding on, he might deign to rise to (eat) your fly.
This element, that you know which fish you are trying to catch, makes the sport a you-against-the-fish battle, mano a mano. Or more accurately: mano a trucha.
Alright - so it's you against a one pound fish with a brain the size of a pea, still pretty challenging for some of us.
Of course all of this is just a lead-up to my being able to brag that I caught two of them yesterday. I also hooked a third but he was clever enough to duck under a log and leave me fighting a dead tree for five minutes thinking I was on to a true lunker. All three fish are back in the river waiting to tease the next angler.
So what, you ask, does all this have to do with running a football team?
It has to do with several more examples of the things I've had to learn (the hard way) over the last three seasons:
A. Cunning and Guile will beat Youth and Enthusiasm every time.
In football as in fishing it is all about knowledge, skill, and cleverness. You have to know more about your opponent than he knows about you. You have to be better skilled and more experienced than your opponent and you have to outsmart your opponent. In football you also have to figure out how to convince 30,000 people to come out to cheer you on to success - not a requirement in fly fishing. Yet.
B. There is nothing like past success to predict future success.
Like any other human activity, football and fishing take lots of practice and experience. Our coaching staff has over a hundred years of collective football experience. It takes lots of cleverness, something that in football as in fishing can only be measured after the fact by the quantity of fish caught, or games won. This coaching staff has been very successful wherever they've gone. I'm confident they'll continue to catch lots of fish - err, win lots of football games for us.
C. Practice catch and release.
In fishing as in football you have to worry about the health of your competitors. If you kill (beat) them too frequently they won't be around to be caught (play) the next season. In professional sports this is called "parity".